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World affairs and Ping-Pong in a fairy-tale palace

Mozart by candlelight, a 24-hour-a-day library, and robust debates are the rule at Schloss Leopoldskron. Friendships are fast. The tone of discourse is civil, give or take an occasional 4 a.m. dust-up over the Vietnam war in the cellar common room. The unique institution of the Salzburg Seminar, it seems, has lost none of its vitality in the four decades since it was founded by some enterprising Harvard students. The intent then was to get an intellectual dialogue going again in war-torn Europe through joint exploration of American civilization.

The distinguished faculty, including anthropologist Margaret Mead and economist Wassily Leontieff, donated their time (as today's lecturers still do). The first fellows from both Western and Eastern Europe got their night's rest in sleeping bags and ate meals improvised from CARE packages and 10-pound sacks of flour contributed by American participants.

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The intent today is not all that different, although more and more fellows now come from the third world as well as Europe and North America, pay between $1,000 and $2,000 for the one- to three-week sessions, and no longer confine their scrutiny to American institutions.

Topics for the sessions, which began in January and run intermittently through Sept. 7, now range as far afield as computers in agriculture and alternative dispute resolution. Four years ago they included contemporary theater and an Ellen Stewart outdoor production of ``Romeo and Juliet'' with each of the seminar actors speaking in his or her native tongue.

Seminar fellow Colin Galletly Jr., a schoolteacher in one of Glasgow's rougher districts, describes why he's glad he came to this year's first session, on d'etente: ``Seldom if ever have I come across as many polite and well-informed and educated people [involved in American studies] in one place. Here there are people from Spain, Greece, Jordan, Yugoslavia, Poland. It means you can hear their points of view in the seminars and not just get what certain Americans [or Britons] think about d'etente.''

Mr. Galletly's three dozen fellow residents of the Leopoldskron Palace included diplomats, journalists, university professors, lawyers, and businessmen. If they are anything like their 11,000 predecessors, they will go back to their jobs full of new ideas -- and ready to recruit their friends for subsequent sessions.

And if they are anything like their predecessors, some of them can expect to achieve fame, following in the footsteps of Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke, pantomime Marcel Marceau, United States Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam, and Istanbul State Theater director Can G"urzap.

Typically, the fellows assemble in the morning for an hour's lecture, followed by a lively one-and-a-half-hour question and discussion period with the lecturer. In the afternoon they split into smaller semimars of 10 or so to investigate particular aspects of the general subject.

Entertainment includes a walking tour of fairy-tale Salzburg, evenings of Ping-Pong, impromptu piano playing, and arguments in the palace's cellar Bierstube (over leftovers from supper set out for snacks). In January, for anyone so inclined, there was curling on the frozen lake behind the palace.

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The 18th-century Leopoldskron Schloss -- one of Salzburg's six finest palaces and an Austrian national monument pictured on the 1,000-schilling note -- provides ample space in its opulent, stuccoed rooms for the 24-hour library (complete with secret staircase), house concerts by the most promising students at the nearby Mozarteum, and a concluding banquet.

What is it about the Salzburg Seminar that attracts more applicants than the program can accept -- as well as highly-qualified faculty willing to serve without pay?

The director of the January session, Harvard Professor Emeritus Robert Bowie, sums it up: ``I'm a strong believer in the drop of water on the stone. So many things you do you can't point to what is the direct result. Obviously this is a modest affair, but it seems to me this reaches a variety of young, middle-level people who are not reached by typical programs [aimed at] more senior people. . . . It just seems to me it's one of those things which may help to generate . . . wider understanding of issues and lay the basis for a more intelligent, sensible public opinion and action.''

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